It is difficult to deny how from a geographical point of view world trade develops through the Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Guinea, the North Sea, Alaska and the Caribbean. It is equally difficult to deny that the main hubs through which global trade transits are – as has been pointed out several times on these pages – the Suez Canal, the Strait of Malacca and the Cape of Good Hope. As for the Panama Canal, the situation is different since its underutilization depends mainly on its very limited width.
We begin to turn our attention to the Strait of Hormuz which constitutes one of those strategic junctions essential to bring about economic globalization. This strait connects the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, and has a length of 63 km with a width 40, dimensions which certainly represent a problem for the crossing of oil tankers. Despite this, 30% of the world trade in oil passes precisely through this strait and in fact 2,400 oil tankers cross it every year.
Let’s now move on to another strategic junction usually little considered by distracted analysts and that is the Pas-de-Calais which is not only crossed by 400 ships every day but is undoubtedly the busiest strait in the world by the merchant navy since through it it is possible reach the main ports of the North Sea, the port of London and Dunkerque. Its minimum width is 33 km and its average depth of 30 meters. However, the peculiarity of this port consists in the fact that it is frequently subject to storm surges, strong winds and dips.
As for the Suez Canal, this is the main transit route for world maritime traffic, 8%, just over the Strait of Malacca while 5% of world trade passes through the Panama Canal. If Suez is the gateway to Asia and the Persian Gulf and the necessary passage point for the transit of energy from the Arab Emirates to Europe, Malacca is the strategic hub that allows the passage of oil tankers going to China and Japan. . Not only
it runs along Malaysia, Sumatra and Singapore but borders on many islands, which, thanks to their geomorphological conformation, allow the proliferation of maritime piracy.
In this regard, we must emphasize that guaranteeing the safety of trade routes is fundamental and therefore constitutes a priority problem for safeguarding economic globalization. In fact, there are several dangers: the climatic one, as for the Pas-de-Calais and its storms, or the military one, as for the Strait of Hormuz and the tensions with Iran, for Panama and the rivalry with the United States, or even criminal – we allude to maritime piracy – as in the case of the Strait of Malacca, the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb. It is certainly no coincidence that both France and China control Djibouti. In fact, let us not forget that the Horn of Africa was the subject of numerous piracy attacks between 2005 and 2012, offensives that certainly damaged maritime traffic globally.
The Cape of Good Hope is the other major global trade hub in the world as it connects the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean.Although the opening of the Suez Canal has made traffic through Cape Town less necessary, however remains one of the major global routes.
As for the Arctic route, both the melting of the ice and the technological improvement of the icebreakers could halve the Europe-Asia travel time now required through Suez or Panama but above all it would reduce both the Panama Canal and the Suez Canal. Furthermore, if the Arctic route were actually implemented this could certainly polarize global trade not only around the three great poles of globalization, the United States, Russia and Europe, but the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Malacca would lose their importance.
There is no doubt that also due to the continuing tensions between Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Egypt, the Mare Nostrum will represent one of the major energy crossroads in the medium term.The actors of this change will not only be national states but also oil multinationals in particular by two, namely Eni and Total. In this regard, we must never forget that the presence of gas fields represents a central issue in deciding the fate of the Mediterranean, especially if we take into account the fact that the GreenStream gas pipeline that connects western Libya with Sicily and Sicily passes through the Mediterranean. Mainland Italy for a length of 540 km with a capacity of 11 billion cubic meters i of gas per year. Naturally Green Stream must be placed in a much broader context: this pipeline is in fact part of the Trans-Mediterranean, which starts from Hassi R’Mel in Algeria and reaches Italy through Tunisia. Hassi R’Mel is the largest natural gas field on the African continent and the continent’s gas pipeline hub. It is precisely from this city that Medgaz starts, which unites Spain with Algeria, and it is also from there that the Trans-Saharan, a vast pipeline project, over 4,000 km long, which should become operational in 2020 and which should allow the connection between the Gulf of Guinea and Europe despite the fact that there are not only difficulties of a technological nature but there are above all difficulties linked to the presence of highly unstable areas such as Niger and the south of the Algerian Sahara.
A central role is obviously played by Russia both through North Stream and Yamal. North Stream connects Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea while Yamal connects the Yamal Peninsula to Poland for over 4,000 km.Another key country is certainly Turkey: in fact the Trans-Anatolian gas pipeline, called Tanap, connects Baku to Europe through Turkey and is expected to supply 23 billion cubic meters of gas per year. Finally, we have the Blue Stream that connects the Russian Caucasus with Turkey.
Precisely as regards Europe, we must never forget that gas supply is possible thanks to the fundamental role played by three nations: Russia (over 40%), Norway (over 20%), Algeria (over 10%) ). These data clearly show that Europe depends very much on Russia and for this reason the need has arisen to diversify the sources of supply such as American shale gas, which should supply the Swinoujscie terminal in Poland. In addition, the EU together with the United States is trying to block the North Stream extension project (North Stream II). The Nabucco project, which starts from Iran, through the southern Caucasus and Turkey and then reaches southern Europe, was also born precisely to avoid that the European Union depends exclusively on Russian gas.
But even if Europe, with the important exception of the North Sea, is not autonomous in terms of gas supply, it is nevertheless surrounded by fields of great importance such as those of the Mediterranean, the Maghreb, Russia, the Caspian Sea, Iran that allow Europe to be able to play on different energy boards.
Although the Pacific Ocean certainly cannot be defined as the center of energy production worldwide, it is nevertheless an area of great importance for Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam and Australia.
But it is precisely in this area that the presence of a guest of stone is manifested, namely China which, through the control of the straits and through the construction of an efficient navy, wants to consolidate its projection of maritime power. Still on the subject of China, the Chinese Sea is certainly another area that from a geopolitical point of view has great significance from an energy point of view. Overall, if we evaluate the importance of the Strait of Djibouti, the Chinese Sea and the Indo-Pacific, we realize that China attaches great importance to the safety of energy supply routes.
As for the United States – especially after 2001 – they have certainly diversified their sources of supply by reducing, for example, the share purchased in the Persian Gulf to increase that purchased in the Gulf of Guinea. However, the increase in oil and shale gas in the The United States has certainly lowered the share of hydrocarbons purchased in the Gulf of Guinea. With this clarification, the United States certainly produces the oil and gas that it consumes or purchases it from Mexico, Canada, Venezuela and the Caribbean. USA on the one hand an energy autonomy and on the other it certainly constitutes one of the factors that has allowed – and allows – the United States to have global hegemony.
Giuseppe Gagliano is President of the Centro Studi Strategici Carlo de Cristoforis (Italy) and specialist in Geopolitics.